Be canny, instead of turbid, when using semicolons. And, the word “amortize.”

Posted on November 7, 2011. Filed under: Associated Press Rules, Grammar, Improving your writing skills, Spelling, Style, Vocabulary, Words | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to include the word “amortize” more effectively in my title. 🙂

For my first post, I’m going to stick to a few general grammar tips, along with posting several vocabulary words. My goal, which I’d like to share with you as well, is to learn something new, relating to writing, everyday. Vocabulary words will not only increase my repertoire of words, but yours as well!

Vocabulary words of the day

[Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day:]

Canny  [KAN-ee] — adjective— (1) Careful, cautious and prudent; (2)Astute, shrewd, knowing, sagacious, skilled, expert; (3) Quiet and snug.

Example: “A canny card player, good at psyching out his opponents,” or “Warm and canny under the woolen bed covers, we didn’t mind the chilly Scottish nights.”

[From Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder:]

Turbid [tər-bid] — (1) Thick or murky, especially with churned-up sediment; (2) Unclear, confused, muddled.

Example: “The mood of the crows was restless and turbid, and any spark could have turned then into a mob.”

Amortize  [a-mər-tīz] — To pay off something, such as a mortgage, by making small payments over a period of time; it is most commonly used as a legal term.

Example: “For tax purposes, they chose to amortize most of the business’s start-up costs over a three-year period.”

Some Grammar Tips: The Semicolon

My 11th grade Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History teacher said something in class one period that has remained with me to this day. She was discussing the horrible work that some students had turned in and decided it was time to offer some grammatical advice. It was on that day that I learned how to properly use a semicolon. Shocking, I know, seeing as how I managed to pass grade school and two years of honors high school English without ever being informed about the beautiful, fluid and useful nature of the semicolon. She taught us the basic use of a semicolon… wait, no she didn’t. All she told us what that we should put semicolons before “however” or “but,” and that was about it. She was also a big fan of Tab soda. The things that stick with you after almost 15 years.

I digress…

Rules concerning the correct usage of grammar have changed since my days in high school. Hell, the world has done a complete 180° when it comes to communication and language, it seems. But, back to grammar: very few rules are set in stone these days, as we have let American language merge with popular culture to create an ever-changing vernacular. I consider myself a prescriptivist when it comes to language, so it makes me sad that the “pop culture” phenomenon has not only invaded our lives, but also our language. I could think of examples, but I think it’d be better if you did for yourself; then, you’ll be able to reflect upon how different groups and cultures within American have affected the English language.

Enough talking about language; now let us learn the proper way to use it. Semicolons separate two clauses that could normally stand on their own. As my beloved Grammar Girl refers to semicolons, this half-colon/half-comma symbol is used as a sentence-splicer; i.e., semicolons splice nasty sentences and turn them into pretty ones.

(A bad) example: “It was quite cold this morning, I wore my scarf to get warm.”

Why is this sentence in poor form? Upon further scrutiny, you can see that it contains two complete sentences on each side of the comma. A way of writing the sentence that utilizes the semicolon is to say, “It was quite cold this morning; I wore my scarf to get warm.”

If you have too many short sentences in a row, then you could benefit from changing things up a bit, such as by connecting the two shorter sentences by a semicolon. Semicolons can be effective tools: using a semicolon to join two sentences draws the reader’s attention to the relationship between the clauses.

However, the most important thing to remember when using a semicolon  is to make sure that the main clauses you are joining together are closely related to one another. Surely, you would never be caught saying, “The milk in the fridge is bad; I need to vacuüm the living room” and expect not to get strange looks. While each sentence can stand on its own, joining them with a semicolon only leads to confusion for the reason that the two sentences are not related. You have to take an axe to bad sentences such as these joined by deceitful commas.

You may ask yourself, why not just use a period? A period would have sufficed in place of the semicolon, but wouldn’t you rather mix things up a bit? Nothing conveys that you are a good writer like the ability to successfully sprinkle uncommon punctuation throughout your paper, including semi-colons, colons and “em” dashes – each of which will be addressed in upcoming posts.

Atypical punctuation not only adds variety to your sentence structure, but it makes you sound smart, too. 🙂 And, to some women, having large vocabulary is a sexy.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow I’ll try to post from the book, “Getting the Words Right.” It’s more of style guide and is a great read!

Thanks for reading my first real post on my new blog. FEEDBACK is welcome aka I never get blog comments. haha.

❤ jt

PS. If you have any grammar questions that you would like answered, leave your question in one of the comment forms and I’ll be more than happy to solve them!!! I thrive off of challenge!

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2 Responses to “Be canny, instead of turbid, when using semicolons. And, the word “amortize.””

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I saw your call for readers on FB, and decided to oblige (being a gaming, science, and language nerd myself).

I’m always impressed when someone I know actually follows through with creating a blog. I have neither the discipline nor the inspiration to update regularly. But I’m very good at reading and commenting.

Regarding semicolons, there’s a quote by my all-time favorite author:

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, _A Man without a Country_

I kinda-sorta hope you are being sarcastic when you say: “Nothing conveys that you are a good writer like the ability to successfully sprinkle uncommon punctuation throughout your paper…” The urge to do this is similar to that found in green-belt web designers who discover blink tags, font effects, and Javascript rollovers. Just because you *can* do something doesn’t mean you should.

Also: being a linguistic prescriptivist is a losing battle. More useful is to be adept at switching registers depending on your audience and context. It’ll make the haters jelly.

Finally, I really like the blog title (and got the reference immediately). Looking forward to reading more.

Hey, Klay! It’s nice to see you here; thanks for the support!

Uh-oh, I just used a semicolon! 🙂

I agree with Vonnegut’s quote. Why? It’s because he specifically uses the words “creative writing.” Had he been referring to writing in general, then I would take up arms.

The writing I’m doing isn’t considered “creative writing.” Sure, I may write “creatively,” but they’re two different things. If I were to write a non-fiction story, I’d never use a semicolon. However, casual writing, like I do in my posts, is a whole other beast. If you’re a good writer, then you can abuse grammar and get away with it.

I suppose we are now talking about two different types of writers, who are the casual writers and the creative writers. When I made the comment that you quoted, I was being completely serious. If you know grammar inside and out, then you know exactly where to add punctuation for extra emphasis.

I agree that “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” But, I’m not insert punctuation into random places in the things that I write; there is an art to it. This art only extends to writing that adheres to some set of grammar laws. Creative writing isn’t subject to any laws. People can write w h a t e v e r they want (haha, see what I did there?). My quote doesn’t apply to creative writers. They can still be good at their craft without using an abundance of punctuation.

Unfortunately for the rest of us who aren’t creative writers, I believe that the quote stands.

And, you’re absolutely right when you say that being a prescriptivist is a losing battle, but hey, we all gotta believe in something, right?

Glad you like the blog title, and that you got the reference. Feel free to leave as many comments as you like; my comments are usually scarce. If I don’t reply in a timely manner, it doesn’t mean that I hate you, but instead that I’m drowning in deadlines.

I didn’t proofread any of this, by the way, nor do I feel like it. hehe. If you reread it and finds some words moved around, that’s why. 😛

-killajulz


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